Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Obsidian and Paizo collaborating on a PATHFINDER project

Obsidian Entertainment, one of the best creators of CRPGs in the world, have teamed up with Paizo Publishing to do something using the latter's highly successful Pathfinder pen-and-paper roleplaying game.

The above picture from this year's GenCon is pretty much all we know so far, but the smart money would be Obsidian making a roleplaying game set in the Pathfinder world. Whether this would be a big-budget, 3D RPG funded by a major publisher or a smaller, lower-budget affair similar to Obsidian's Kickstarter game, Pillars of Eternity (due out before the end of this year), remains to be seen, although I suspect the latter is more likely.

Obsidian and Paizo have expressed their mutual admiration in the past, with Obsidian also suggesting that their Pillars of Eternity world could become a Pathfinder pen-and-paper campaign setting. This is a very good fit, and it'll be intriguing to see what form the project takes.

Update: Obsidian and Paizo Publishing have entered into a long-term licensing agreement. First up is a digital version of the Pathfinder collectable card game. This will be followed by a 'proper' CRPG at a later date.

Obsidian Entertainment, the developer of Fallout: New Vegas, South Park: the Stick of Truth and the Kickstarter phenomenon Pillars of Eternity, announced that they have entered into a long-term licensing partnership with Paizo Inc. to produce electronic games based on its popular Pathfinder Roleplaying Game intellectual property.

Obsidian's first licensed product will be a tablet game based on the highly successful Pathfinder Adventure Card Game, a cooperative game for 1 to 4 players. Players each have a unique character composed of a deck of cards and a set of stats. Characters have classes such as fighter, rogue, wizard and cleric, as well as numbers that define attributes such as strength, wisdom and charisma etc. Players will be able to customize their deck to better suit each individual's vision of their character.

"At Obsidian we have a long history of working with the greatest RPG franchises, and we're thrilled to get to play in the Pathfinder universe now," said CEO Feargus Urquhart. "We're huge fans and can't wait to bring what we do in the electronic gaming world to Pathfinder fans everywhere".

In the world of Pathfinder, players take on the role of brave adventurers fighting to survive in a world beset by magic and evil. The Pathfinder RPG is currently translated into multiple languages, with hundreds of thousands of players worldwide. The Pathfinder brand has also been licensed for comic book series, graphic novels, miniatures, plush toys, apparel, and is being developed into a massively multiplayer online roleplaying game.

"Obsidian is a video game developer at the top of its game", said Paizo CEO Lisa Stevens. "Being able to bring that type of experience and passion to Pathfinder can only mean great things, both for our loyal Pathfinder community and for all fans of great CRPG's."

Obsidian will be at Gen Con 2014 showing off an early prototype of the digital Pathfinder Adventure Card Game in the Paizo booth (#203) and in their own booth (#2151) featuring the first consumer hands on for Pillars of Eternity.

Monday, 11 August 2014

BABYLON 5 creator teases new reboot movie

J. Michael Straczynski, the creator of cult 1990s SF show Babylon 5, has announced that he is planning a big-screen reboot of the franchise.

Babylon 5 ran for five years in 1993-98 and was critically acclaimed for its long-running story arc, a single storyline executed across five seasons and 110 episodes (as well as a number of TV movies of varying degrees of competence), as well as its pioneering use of CGI for effects. Warner Brothers produced the show and retain the movie rights, but the movie rights remained with Straczynski.

Straczynski set up a new production company in 2012, Studio JMS, and has been raising $200 million for a slate of different projects. The company's first venture is a new TV series produced by the Wachowskis and co-written by Straczynski, Sense8, which will debut in 2015 on Netflix. Straczynski has said he will offer Warner Brothers first refusal on the Babylon 5 movie, with a budget of over $100 million. If they decline, he will fund the film himself through Studio JMS with a more modest budget of around $80 million.

Given that Babylon 5 helped pioneer the long-form, serialised drama, the style of television which is now the gold standard, it seems an odd choice to try to shoehorn its long, epic story into a couple of movies, especially when the TV series was more about the characters than the effects (impressive as they were in their day). I suspect this may be more a reflection of the rights situation - where JMS has full control of the film rights but none at all over the TV ones - than what might be the preferred route JMS would want to take. Even so, it's going to be a daunting project. The new actors have some pretty massive shoes to fill, most notably whoever tries to replace the formidable rapport between Peter Jurasik's Londo Mollari and the late Andreas Katsulas's G'Kar.

According to JMS, he wants the new film to enter production in 2016. It will be interesting to see if this happens or not, but he seems to have - for the first time since the TV show ended - a firm plan in place.

Sunday, 10 August 2014

Guardians of the Galaxy

In 1988, young Peter Quill is abducted by aliens and carried off into deep space to be raised as a mercenary. Twenty-six years later Quill steals a valuable orb coveted by both the renegade Kree warlord Ronan and Quill's own former boss (and abductor) Yondu. The orb rapidly draws the attention of many factions and Quill is reluctantly forced to ally with Gamora (a former ally of Ronan's), Rocket (a genetically-engineered raccoon-like creature), Groot (an ambulatory tree) and Drax (an overly literal, vengeance-fuelled warrior) in order to recover the orb and save the galaxy.

Guardians of the Galaxy is the latest film set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and arguably Marvel's biggest gamble to date. Whilst previous movies focused on fairly well-known characters or groups who were at least passingly familiar to a general audience, the Guardians source material is relatively obscure. Guardians is a test of how far into its decades of source material Marvel can really reach before losing its audience. Its immensely successful opening week suggests that Marvel isn't losing its magic touch any time soon.

Guardians is a fun but flawed movie. It's comfortably superior to any of the Iron Man or Thor flicks, but the (relatively) grounded realism of Captain America: The Winter Soldier worked better and The Avengers was stronger as an ensemble piece, as it was able to use the previous movies for its scene-setting and character development. Guardians's pacing suffers a little as it struggles to provide backstory and motivation as well as a cohesive storyline. In fact, the storyline suffers quite a lot, with some fairly risible "the team learning the art of friendship" scenes fitted in amongst discussions of magical maguffins and action beats of varying competence.

What holds the picture together and makes it work is the offbeat script and direction from James Gunn, the excellent 1980s soundtrack and a formidable cast. Chris Pratt brings the requisite levels of arrogance and overconfidence to Quill, whilst Zoe Saldana is excellent as Gamora. The real revelations come from former wrestler Dave Bautista as Drax (who channels a surprising degree of pathos into his performance) and Karen Gillan as Nebula, who leaves her Doctor Who role of Amy Pond far behind in a vicious and at terms unnerving role. Lee Pace as Ronan is less successful, his camp villainy feeling redundant. A bigger problem is that the movie deploys actors and comedians of the calibre of Peter Serafinowicz, John C. Reilly, Glenn Close, Djimon Hounsou and Benicio del Toro and does very little with them. It is good to see Michael Rooker building on his Walking Dead success with a more meaty role as Yondu. His smile of delight when he realises he has been betrayed, thus justifying vengeance later on, is one of the film's more enjoyable, quiet moments.

The film is witty, with some great one-liners and narrative zingers flying around, and the actors are certainly up to the challenge. However, the film does struggle with its CGI. After several movies - most notably The Avengers and The Winter Soldier - where Marvel seemed to be dialling back the use of sensory overload CGI (where stuff happens so fast and blurred that you don't know what's going on), it returns with a vengeance in Guardians of the Galaxy. Some dogfights and battle sequences are almost impossible to follow and intercut so rapidly it makes it hard to appreciate the strong production design.

Another area where the film succeeds is in how it is bringing together the different narrative strands established in earlier films. The backstory of the Tesseract (Captain America: The First Avenger, The Avengers) and the Aether (Thor: The Dark World) is explored and we find out more about Thanos, the big bad behind the events of The Avengers. The Collector also returns from Thor: The Dark World. There's a growing sense of a masterplan which will extend through several more movies to come and will be interesting to see develop. Gunn even trolls the fans with a post-credit sequence that is nowhere as revelatory and momentous as previous ones, instead going for laughs.

Guardians of the Galaxy (****) is loud, brash and almost entirely nonsensical fun. Some good laughs, an excellent cast and some much-needed tying together of the wider Marvel universe storyline overcome some confusing CGI and tiresome villains to deliver a solid, undemanding blockbuster. The film is on general release now.

Monday, 28 July 2014

Ten reasons you should be playing DIVINITY: ORIGINAL SIN

Divinity: Original Sin has been picking up some excellent reviews and I'm about ten hours into my own playthrough. Given time constraints and the sheer mind-boggling size of the game (almost all of those ten hours have been spent on the opening town map alone), it may be some days weeks months before I can do a detailed review. So in the meantime, here's why I think you should be checking the game out.

1. There's a clairvoyant bull called Bull. His best friend is another bull called Bill.

2. A key subplot revolves around the cross-social class romantic struggles of two cats.

3. An interdimensional massive threat to all lifekind as we know it is treated as a middling and not terribly pressing subplot for most of the game.

4. Blood conducts electricity, making for some interesting fights when your blood-splattered heroes start throwing lightning bolts around.

5. Early in the game you meet a talking clam which quotes from Moby Dick.

6. Zombie enemies occasionally sport the names of the person they used to be (like 'Rob'), to make you feel slightly bad when you splatter them.

7. You create two PCs instead of one, and can have them spend the whole game bickering with one another if you want to explore the duality of your own psyche. Or merely accelerate your own inevitable mental breakdown.

8. It has the best combat seen in an RPG since Baldur's Gate II.

9. It's basically the product of an unholy union between Baldur's Gate, Diablo, Ultima VII, XCOM and Myth (the pre-Halo Bungie strategy games). Simultaneously.

10. It'll more than adequately fill the time until Pillars of Eternity and Elite: Dangerous come out.

Divinity: Original Sin is available on PC now.

Sunday, 27 July 2014


Fans of A Song of Ice and Fire and Game of Thrones may have suffered whiplash as two different sources offered pessimistic and then optimistic news on the progress of The Winds of Winter, the sixth and (planned-to-be) penultumate novel in the series.

First off, George R.R. Martin's UK editor Jane Johnson tweeted that The Winds of Winter was not on their schedule for 2015. This was taken by some to mean that the book was definitely not coming out next year. Johnson later clarified that the book was merely not scheduled at this time. Given the rapid turn-around on the previous novels (two months for A Storm of Swords, five for A Feast for Crows, three for A Dance with Dragons) this is not quite as bad as it first sounds, as those books weren't on the early schedules for their respective years either.

Then, at the San Diego Comic-Con, Martin himself offered some optimistic news. He confirmed he has not written a script for Season 5 of Game of Thrones and will not be undertaking any new set visits or other travelling obligations beyond those that he has already agreed to. This is all specifically designed to give him the maximum amount of time needed to finish The Winds of Winter. However, Martin would still not give a precise update on how much of the book he has completed at this time.

Whilst this sounds great, we should also recall that Martin skipped the 2007 Worldcon to finish A Dance with Dragons, and the book still took more than three years to come out after that point. It would seem unlikely that Winter is that amount of time away, but it is always best to exercise caution with any of this news.

Previously, on Winterwatch:

Martin completed the fifth book in the series, A Dance with Dragons, in early 2011. Several complete chapters were removed from the novel and added to the start of The Winds of Winter. The amount of material is unclear, but seems to be a minimum of five or six chapters, totalling somewhere between 150 and 200 manuscript pages.

In February 2013 Martin delivered a further 168 manuscript pages to his American publisher. This would rise the completed total to around 318-368 manuscript pages. In April 2013 Martin said he had approximately one-quarter of the novel finished, and expected the novel to come in at around the same size as A Dance with Dragons, which was 1,520 manuscript pages. One quarter of that amount would equal approximately 380 manuscript pages, so this tracks pretty well.

Since April 2013 Martin has not offered any concrete information on his progress, instead preferring to make positive comments that he is writing fast and needs to stay ahead of the TV show. He has confirmed that he is doing far less rewriting on The Winds of Winter than the previous novel in the series, the constant editing and re-editing of which (particularly the knotty events in Meereen) was the principal reason for the delays to that volume. Although a cause for optimism, Martin has cautioned that the book is still incomplete, meaning that further rewrites cannot be ruled out for further down the line.

During the writing of previous novels in the series, Martin had offered more frequent updates on his progress, along with firmer figures on how many pages he had completed. In his parlance, "completed" means the pages in question have been written, re-written to his satisfaction and given at least an initial editing pass by his American editor. With Martin not having sent any further material to his editor since February 2013, he is possibly unwilling to put a hard figure to his progress. It may also be that with Dragons, the constant re-structuring of the novel meant that chapters and pages he declared completed and counted had to be rewritten again and again, meaning that the value of declaring them finished was dubious. For this reason, it may be that we won't start getting more precise figures on Winter's progress until the book is a lot closer to completion.

As for a release date, late 2015 would appear to still be possible but the door is starting to close on it. With Season 6 of Thrones likely to start drawing on Winter storylines and material, he really needs to release the novel before April 2016 to ensure the TV show does not overtake him. However, with the TV series currently projected to only last seven or eight seasons, he would not then have very much time to write the (currently) final novel in the series.

Friday, 25 July 2014

Jonathan Pryce and Alexander Siddig confirmed for GAME OF THRONES Season 5

British actors Jonathan Pryce and Alexander Siddig are the highest-profile additions to Season 5 of Game of Thrones. HBO have released the names of no less than nine additions to the cast at the San Diego Comic-Con.

Jonathan Pryce is a hugely versatile actor, well-versed in theatre and smaller film and TV roles before achieving his breakthrough as the lead actor in Terry Gilliam's 1985 cult classic Brazil. He played the main villain in the James Bond movie Tomorrow Never Dies as well as playing Juan Peron in Evita. Numerous film and TV roles on both sides of the Atlantic followed, including a recurring role as Governor Swann in the Pirates of the Caribbean movies.

On Game of Thrones he will be playing the 'High Sparrow'. The High Sparrow is a wandering septon (a priest of the Faith of the Seven) who preaches to the smallfolk of the Seven Kingdoms. Sickened by the ravages of the War of the Five Kings, he travels to King's Landing to seek greater help from the High Septon and the Iron Throne in protecting the people. Several players in the capital seek to use his arrival for their own ends.

Alexander Siddig is best-known for his seven-year stint as Dr. Julian Bashir on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. He has appeared in films such as Syriana, Kingdom of Heaven and Clash of the Titans, and TV shows including 24 and Atlantis (having multi-episode arcs on both).

On Game of Thrones Siddig will be playing Prince Doran Nymeros Martell, the ruling Prince of Dorne. One of the most powerful men in the Seven Kingdoms, Doran is the older brother of Prince Oberyn, the Red Viper, but ill health has kept Doran at home in his castle of Sunspear overlooking the Narrow Sea for several years. Unlike his younger, headstrong and more fiery brother, Doran is noted for being thoughtful, slow to anger and keen on keeping Dorne out of war. The other rulers of the Seven Kingdoms do not consider him a major threat, believing his is afraid to take bold action. However, his peaceful policies also have their opponents within Dorne.

The other actors announced at Comic-Con (and rounded up at Winter is Coming) are:

Toby Sebastian as Prince Trystane Martell, Prince Doran's son.
Nell Tiger Free as Princess Myrcella Baratheon (replacing Aimee Richardson).
DeObia Oparei as Areo Hotah, Prince Doran's bodyguard and captain of guards.
Enzo Cilenti as Yezzan zo Qagazz, a slave master of Yunkai.
Jessica Henwick as Nymeria 'Nym' Sand, one of Prince Oberyn's daughters, the Sand Snakes.
Rosabell Laurenti Sellers as Tyene Sand, another Sand Snake.
Keisha Castle-Hughes as Obara Sand, another Sand Snake.

There is looming controversy in the decision to replace Aimee Richardson, who was popular amongst fans for her amusing Tweets and engagement with them at conventions, and most notably the official HBO description of Prince Trystane as Doran's heir. This heavily suggests that both Princess Arianne Martell, the heir to Dorne in the novels, and Prince Quentyn (Trystan's older brother) have either been removed from the TV series or somehow delayed until later seasons.

There is also some surprise at a lack of any indications that characters such as Euron and Victarion Greyjoy, Young Griff or Jon Connington will appear this season, although it is possible that further announcements will be made down the line. It is also possible that Season 5 will see the most drastic changes yet to GoT's story, as entire plots and subplots from the novels are discarded.

Season 5 of Game of Thrones is now shooting in Northern Ireland, Croatia and Spain (no Iceland this year, apart from establishing shots) and will air in the USA and UK in March or April of 2015.

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Melanie Rawn promises to finish her EXILES TRILOGY

Fantasy author Melanie Rawn has confirmed that she is planning to finally write the third and concluding volume of her Exiles Trilogy, The Captal's Tower, some seventeen years after the previous volume was released.

Rawn began work on the Exiles Trilogy in the early 1990s, releasing The Ruins of Ambrai in 1994 and The Mageborn Traitor in 1997. Rawn's mother, who also served as her first test reader and sounding board for ideas, passed away after this point and Rawn gave up writing for nine years, returning with a new trilogy, Spellbinder, in 2006. The author said she needed a new project to recharge her creative batteries before completing the Exiles Trilogy. However, after Spellbinder and its sequel Fire Raiser were published, the new trilogy was cancelled due to poor sales. Rather than return to the incomplete trilogy, she wrote The Diviner (the long-planned sequel to her 1996 collaborative novel, The Golden Key) and then embarked on a new series, Glass Thorns, a move which irritated many of her fans (not to mention generating substantial commentary on this blog).

Three books have been published in the Glass Thorns sequence: Touchstone, Elsewhens and Thornlost. A fourth volume is completed and due for publication next year, and Rawn is working on a fifth volume. However, she has promised that once that is complete, her next project will indeed be The Captal's Tower. Her statement:
"Yes, I will write Captal’s Tower. I’m very sorry it’s taken so long. My sincere thanks to all of you who have been so patient. I’m currently writing the fifth book in the “Glass Thorns” series, and after that my plan is to get to work on Captal’s Tower. If anything about that plan changes, I’ll post on my website."

Good news, following a long period with no news at all (and some ill-advised jabs at fans wondering where the book was in her Spellbinder novels). When The Captal's Tower is released I will finally be able to read the whole trilogy and see what all the fuss is about.

Monday, 21 July 2014

J.J. Abrams unveils the new X-wing fighter

For many young Star Wars fans, the most iconic moments from the original movie trilogy were the dogfights between the Rebel Alliance's X-Wings and the Galactic Empire's TIE Fighters. As the massive sales of the later X-Wing computer games show, the fighters have remained hugely popular.

In a video today, director J.J. Abrams revealed the design of a new generation of X-Wing fighter. Coming from a generation (or two) further on from the originals, these X-Wings are sleeker and appear to split their wings on a vertical axis rather than horizontal (with the wings appearing to pop up from behind one another, a bit like some of the prequel trilogy proto-X-Wings). There's also no sign of a housing for an astromech droid, suggesting they are no longer needed or are stored internally, which, as R2-D2 can attest from the end of Episode IV, makes a hell of a lot more sense.

These new X-Wings appear to also be a homage to Ralph McQuarrie's amazing concept art for the original films. One of McQuarrie's ideas was that the X-Wings would have two large engines which would split, rather than four smaller ones that would not.

There's also something of a design similarity to the Z-95 Headhunter, a predecessor design to the X-Wing developed for the Expanded Universe which enjoyed great fan popularity before appearing in The Clone Wars (and thus becoming canon even for the new Star Wars continuity).


HarperCollins Voyager have unveiled their cover art for The World of Ice and Fire, the forthcoming companion volume to A Song of Ice and Fire:

The book will be released on 28 October this year in the UK.

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Daniel Abraham on the EXPANSE TV series

Following recent casting and production news on The Expanse TV series, co-writer of the novels (as one half of James S.A. Corey) Daniel Abraham has spoken about the general status of the project and how it is unfolding, including how they've got some top ex-Breaking Bad talent on board.

The role of Detective Miller is going to be played by Thomas Jane. Who, if you don’t know him, was designed in a government lab for the role. Seriously. He’d done The Punisher and Scott Pilgrim Vs The World and Stephen King’s The Mist and Dreamcatcher. The man knows his genre chops. And he’s also been in Boogie Nights and Magnolia and The Thin Red Line. And Hung, where he got the three Golden Globe nominations. He can play tough, he can play vulnerable, and most of all he can play someone who’s well-bruised by the world. There was a while there I was afraid we weren’t going to get him, but ever since we have, I’ve been tracking down clips of his performances and feeling like I just found a Banksy print in my alley. It’s that level of cool.

And then there’s the director. I was unaware coming in of how important the first director is in a new show like this. Turns out, sort of critical, because whatever they do, however they approach the show, it pretty much sets the tone for everyone who comes after. We already had a fair amount of Breaking Bad in our project’s DNA because we were working with Sharon Hall who developed it back when she was at Sony.

So now we have more.

Terry McDonough did several episodes of Breaking Bad, including the one called Better Call Saul which was for my money one of the best hours of one of the best shows in my lifetime. I didn’t know it, but I’d actually seen his work the first time years ago in a show called Wire in the Blood that I still remember. He’s won the BAFTA and Royal Television Society (UK) Awards. When they were talking to him about our show, he was actually in my hometown working with the folks on Better Call Saul. If you’re looking for someone who can take the project and see complex characters in serious conflicts, this is kind of your guy. He’s not one of the people who looks down on SF. He directed Brian Cox in Doctor Who: An Adventure in Time and Space and just got a Hugo nomination for it. He directed Patrick Stewart in The Eleventh Hour. Between his instincts for nuance and humanity and his track record for making character-centered, award-winning television, he’s a brilliant fit.

In addition to Mark and Hawk – who, I would like to say for the record, have some of the best instincts for story I’ve seen anywhere – Naren Shankar has come on board to help out. That might not be a name you know, but he worked as one flavor or another of producer on CSI from 2002 to 2010 while that show was not only one of the best rated but possibly the most visually stylish things on network TV. He’s worked on Star Trek and Farscape and The Outer Limits. And we have other writers who’ve come from shows like Mad Men (seriously, one of our writers has Emmy nominations from Mad Men), and The Killing and Burn Notice.
It's worth reading the full report here, including on how Weta Digital will be providing the effects for the series,

The Expanse's first, ten-episode season will be mostly based on Leviathan Wakes, the first novel in the series. More news will be revealed soon.